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  1. UPDATE: Nintendo of America has announced that Fire Emblem Heroes will release on both iOS and Android on February 2. Today's Nintendo Direct focusing on new Fire Emblem games came and went, and if there's anything that fans should take away from it, it's that Nintendo is positioning the Fire Emblem series as a major pillar for the company from this point on. First off, a new game is coming to the 3DS in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valencia -- a remake of the second game in the series, Fire Emblem Gaiden, which originally released on the NES. Shadows of Valencia will feature fully updated visuals as well and full voiced characters along with a new gameplay twist -- exploration of dungeons with enemies. The story's two heroes -- Alm and Celica -- will also be available as amiibo for purchase alongside the game's release on May 19. Next up is Fire Emblem Warriors, which we previously heard about during last week's official reveal of the Nintendo Switch. Not much more was shown about the game, but we did get confirmation that the game is being developed by the Hyrule Warriors team and will release this Fall on both Nintendo Switch and New 3DS. And speaking of Switch, a brand new game is in development for the platform and is targeting a release for 2018. It will be the first full Fire Emblem game on a console since Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn in 2007. No footage has been shown for the game yet. Finally, Fire Emblem Heroes was announced for smart devices and will feature recruitable heroes from past Fire Emblem games as players wage tactical warfare on the go. There will be a complete story mode, and the game is being offered as a free-to-play title with optional in-app purchases (unlike Super Mario Run's fixed $9.99 price). Fans can also go to this website to vote on Fire Emblem characters that they'd like to see in the game eventually (you'll get platinum points on MyNintendo for doing so as well). All in all, the future looks bright for Fire Emblem. With three titles releasing this year and at least one for the next, it's clear that Nintendo is betting big on the franchise for now. Source: Are you looking forward to any of the upcoming Fire Emblem titles? Let us know below!
  2. With all of the hullabaloo over the Nintendo Switch recently, fans naturally assumed that Nintendo would be putting the 3DS out to pasture, especially since the Switch doubles as a handheld. But Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime recently reinforced Nintendo's dedication to their existing handheld for the near future. WIRED's Chris Kohler shared a comment from an interview with Reggie that was cut from the final published piece, where the latter stated: "There are [3DS] games that we haven't announced yet... that I know, Chris, are going to make you excited." Reggie's public declaration of continued support for 3DS is great to hear, though the company hasn't commented on how long we can expect them to continue doing so. Will it be until the end of the year, or into 2018 and beyond? It likely depends on how well the Switch is received. One of Nintendo's big goals is for Switch to hit 10 million units sold in the first year, something that both the Wii and PS4 achieved handily, but the Xbox One and Xbox 360 fell slightly short of. If Switch's sales trail off after the launch period, Nintendo would likely continue supporting 3DS for longer than it had initially intended, whereas if the opposite happens, 2017 might be the handheld's swan song. In any case, it's great to know there will be more 3DS games coming throughout the year in addition to the games we already know of in Q1/Q2. Reggie's comment also makes it sound as if there is at least one surprise in the works, if not more. Could this be the long-awaited Mother 3 announcement, or even a confirmation of Dragon Quest XI for North America? We'll have to wait and see. Nintendo generally announces their Q2 titles around March or April, and we'll find out what the Q3/Q4 lineup is at E3, so stay tuned. Source: Chris Kohler (via Twitter) Are you surprised that more unannounced 3DS games are coming this year?
  3. While it's no surprise that Nintendo revealed that Super Mario Maker to 3DS in the last Nintendo Direct, it was a bit surprising to learn that the game limits level sharing to local play and not through the internet like the Wii U version did. Still, Super Mario Maker 3D has a few added things going for it that make it more than worthwhile to buy again. For one, the game has 100 levels designed by Nintendo themselves; something the Wii U version was largely lacking although it did have a fraction of pre-made levels. Furthermore, some of these levels will include different medal challenges that have you beating the levels in different ways. For example, you might have to beat a level by not taking your thumb off the right D-pad trigger, or beat it by not jumping at all. It's definitely a different way to spice the game up and give it its own unique flavor. Super Mario Maker 3D is set to release on December 2. You can check out the gameplay reveal footage of the medal challenges below. Does the inclusion of medal challenges make you more interested in playing Super Mario Maker 3D?
  4. Jason Clement

    Gurumin 3D is heading to 3DS in early October

    If you haven't heard yet, Nihon Falcom's nifty action-RPG, Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, is heading to 3DS as Gurumin 3D. The game's publisher, Mastiff Games, has announced that the game is slated for release on the 3DS eShop in North America on October 13. A European release date is still in the works. Anyone who purchases the game from Oct. 13 through Oct. 31 will receive a Gurumin Party Time 3DS theme (pictured to the right) as a special bonus. Additionally, several other Gurumin themes will be made available for purchase on the 3DS eShop on the day of release. For more info on Gurumin, you can check out our review of the game's Steam release last year. Source: Press Release Are you interested in playing Gurumin 3D?
  5. When Mario Sports Superstars was announced in last week's Nintendo Direct, chances are you probably thought it was being developed by none other than Camelot, the developer behind the long-running Mario Golf and Mario Tennis series of games. And technically, you'd be right. Sort of. As it turns out, Mario Sports Superstars is actually a collaboration between two development studios. One is Camelot and the other is Bandai Namco Studios, the latter of which previously collaborated with Masahiro Sakurai on Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U. It stands to reason, then, that Camelot is likely working on the golf and tennis segments of the game (given their experience creating the Mario Golf/Tennis games) while Bandai Namco Studios is working on the horse-racing, soccer, and baseball segments. Although who knows, perhaps Camelot is also contributing to the latter games as well! At any rate, we'll find even more about the game as it gets closer to its Spring 2017 release window on 3DS. If you missed the initial reveal, check out the trailer for the game below. Source: Nintendo Life Are you surprised two developers are working on this game?
  6. Developer: SEGA Publisher: SEGA Platform: 3DS Release Date: June 21, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen 'Damn dragons' -- a phrase often murmured in the mouthful of a dungeon crawler RPG title: 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. Apparently dragons have been a problem for quite a while, according to SEGA. The first 7th Dragon release appeared on the original DS and eventually got two sequels on PSP called 7th Dragon 2020 and 7th Dragon 2020-II, but only in Japan. For better or worse, the dragon apocalypse draws to its conclusion outside of Japan with its newest and final release of the dungeon crawling series. As often the case with dragon invasions, they start in Japan [citation needed]. Well, technically they wiped out the people in Atlantis first, but that's more reserved within the unnecessarily verbose main narrative. The storytelling itself is hodgepodge of completely random and cliched story devices that find a way to be presented in the most dull way possible further emphasized by the flat one-note supporting cast. Basically, some company by the name of "Nodens" scouts the player-created character after they do abnormally well in a public video game beta. Of course, being much more than a video game company, Nodens is actually driven to stop dragons from entirely destroying the world. In order to do so, however, Nodens needs the player-created party to visit different time periods in order for them to literally craft the means to do so. At its heart, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD is about traversing dungeons and killing lots of dragons. The dungeon-crawling itself is nothing to write home about (especially having personally played better examples recently) as the labyrinths are quite basic in design and enemies are frequently copy and pasted. You go from one time period to another and frankly they blur together in their lifelessness. Mechanically, however, Code VFD does truly stand out and is easily its best component. I had thought Bravely Second would be the obvious choice for coolest take on RPG classes in turn-based combat during 2016, but I think 7th Dragon may actually claim that mantle. None of the characters behave in a way you would expect from any of them at a first glance. For example, the most straightforward-appearing class, Samurai, actually has entirely different movesets based on whether they have a long sword of two short swords equipped. The game quickly gets into much stranger territory in regards to character movesets, such as the part magician and Yu-Gi-Oh card-flinging Duelist class, which is less about casting spells and more about setting up trap cards and debuffing enemies to heck based on randomly drawn elemental card combinations. Eventually players get access to the likes of Fortuner, which places over many heal over time effects on allies and adsorbs the life force of status afflicted enemies, or rocket-launcher/lance wielding Banisher with an entire ammunition mechanic, which are creatively implemented as well. Though there are technically only eight classes total (nine arguably with Samurai) their skill sets are quite rich and there is a real strong emphasis on group synergy, especially as the story tries to encourage separating parties, using follow-up attacks, and eventually flashy nine-person Unison Skills. Code VFD makes it all the more satisfying when composing the various teams because not only is it necessary, but it is enjoyable as well. Other than the basic dungeons, dull storytelling, and great combat mechanics, Code VFD tries to occupy the player by having them build various facilities within Nodens. The currency needed for construction is gained from killing many palette-swapped mini-boss dragons during dungeon treks, but are thankfully worth it for the unlocks. Some are mostly frivolous, yet somewhat amusing, such as a romantic Skylounge or a cat cafe in which you pet, well, cats for bonus skill points. The more substantial unlocks involve getting access to more character skills (which eventually becomes sort of overkill late game which already feel more than capable by then) or get many new items in shops. Players can also partake in quests too, but, much like the main storytelling, are often quite boring and not usually worth doing despite some minor attempts at fleshing out its world. I may sound excessively harsh about the storytelling, but it honestly made me put the game down several times because how apathetic I was in continuing to see more of it. Probably the last aspect worth mentioning is the presentation. I mean, the in-game visuals themselves are not that special even if I like some of the character designs, and, as mentioned before, basic dungeons as well. That said, many of the combat abilities look flashy in motion and sort of have a Dragon Quest VIII approach in which you make player commands in first person, like Etrian Odyssey, but see characters execute them in more traditional 3rd-person fashion. More importantly, however, is that legendary composer, Yuzo Koshiro, from classic compositions like Streets of Rage to more modern Etrian Odyssey, sneaks in to compose the techno themed score. It is not Yuzo's best work, but it is a well done soundtrack none the less. In most regards, 7th Dragon III: Code VFD feels like a thoroughly average dungeon-crawler that barely manages to escape such status through its excellent character classes and mechanics in combat. I often found myself falling off the game because of the completely underwhelming storytelling, recycled enemy content, and uninteresting actual dungeons to traverse through over time. It is fun in short burst, but over time shows that dragons don't actually have that many tricks up their sleeves, contrary to what the main narrative would lead you to believe. Pros + Unique character classes with often creative and fun skill sets + It is rewarding to create new facilities within the main hub due to the perks they unlock + Good soundtrack with a distinct techno flair Cons - Dungeon design is too basic and bland to justify their length - A few too many palette swaps and repeated bosses -Inconsequential storytelling that is more verbose than it needs be considering how boring the supporting cast is Overall Score: 6 (out of 10) Decent 7th Dragon III: Code VFD does little to stand outside of its great character classes and satisfying combat mechanics. But unfortunately, players will have to put up with most of its other underwhelming aspects, from storytelling to uninspired level design, in order to do so. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  7. If you were expecting Rhythm Heaven Megamix later on this Fall-- well, I have good news for you. Nintendo announced that it's available for purchase right now on the 3DS eShop for $29.99. True to its name, Rhythm Heaven Megamix features a mix of the most memorable minigames from past Rhythm Heaven titles and mixes them up into a sort of best hits collection. There are also a number of new minigames designed for this game as well, in addition to a story linking them altogether. But what about a physical release, you say? Nothing regarding this was announced, making it appear as if Megamix is a digital exclusive for the moment. If a physical release does happen, we'll let you know. Will you be downloading and playing Rhythm Heaven Megamix?
  8. A few new surprises were in store for Nintendo fans today as the company revealed two new games on the Treehouse Live segment at E3 2016 today. The first is Box Box Boy, a sequel to last year's intuitive 3DS puzzle game, Box Boy. This time around, you'll be able to make multiple sets of boxes at once, making the new puzzles a bit more complex. Also announced was a brand new RPG IP from Grezzo (the developer behind The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D) called Ever Oasis. It's an action-RPG where the objective is to build a prosperous oasis while exploring a savage desert and defending it from the chaos that threatens the area. Judging from the trailer, it appears to be inspired by games such as Secret of Mana and Fantasy Life. Ever Oasis is due out in 2017, but you won't have to wait long for Box Box Boy as it's set to release in a few weeks on June 30 on the 3DS eShop. What are your thoughts on Box Box Boy or Ever Oasis?
  9. Despite Nintendo's main focus on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at this year's E3, the company opened up today about a few more of their plans for the Fall. Namely, a release date for Paper Mario: Color Splash of October 7 (on Wii U). At the moment, this is the only confirmed first-party Wii U release for the rest of this year. Also, Nintendo will be demoing more of the game during the Treehouse Live segment tomorrow. Secondly, a new Mario Party game called Mario Party Star Rush will be coming to the 3DS, and it will be releasing on November 7. More info to come on it in tomorrow's Treehouse Live segment. Finally, a second wave of the Super Mario lineup of amiibo was announced, featuring Waluigi, Daisy, and Boo for the first time, and also new poses for Rosalina, Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and Wario. These amiibo will be releasing on November 4. It's unknown if these announcements represent the entirety of the rest of the year's announcements as far as 2016 releases go or if more unannounced first-party titles will be releasing before year's end. We'll have to wait and see what future Nintendo Directs have in store. Source: Press Release Are you glad to have a release date for Mario Party: Color Splash? What are your thoughts on the new amiibo?
  10. Yo-Kai Watch seemed like a bit of a gamble for Nintendo when they decided to bring the Japanese-centric franchise to North America and Europe last year, but the move seems to have paid off for them as today it was announced that Yo-Kai Watch 2 would be released on 3DS this Fall. New to the sequel will be more than 100 new Yo-kai; a new, improved, in-game Yo-kai Watch (the titular device that the main protagonist uses), the ability to travel back in time, and more. The original Yo-kai Watch had the benefit of launching without a new, mainline Pokemon game competing for attention, but this year will be a bit different due to the upcoming release of Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. Therefore, Nintendo is releasing Yo-kai Watch 2 a bit earlier than when they released the first installment last year, with a release date of September 30. This will ultimately give the game a bit of breathing room both in retail stores and on the 3DS eShop before Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon land on November 18. Speaking of the latter, if you haven't already, be sure to check out Jonathan's thoughts on the latest information on Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon. Did you ever play the first Yo-Kai Watch? Are you looking forward to this one?
  11. Jason Clement

    Review: Blast 'Em Bunnies

    Developer: Nnooo Publisher: Nnooo Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, PS Vita Release Date: March 8, 2016 ESRB: E 10+ This review is based on the PS4 version of the game It's a warm, sunny day. You're peacefully taking a nap out on the lawn when, suddenly, a band of evil bunnies encroaches on your territory (like they're inclined to). What do you do? Whatever any reasonable bunny would do: blast them into oblivion with various fruits and vegetables at them! Blast 'em Bunnies is an arcade-style shooting gallery game where you play as Bang Bang, a bunny looking out to defend his burrow from other evil bunnies. And while there really isn't a story to the game beyond that, the achievements reveal that all 32 of his babies were stolen by them as well (what a bunch of jerks!). However, you'll have the opportunity to get them back one by one through different playthroughs. The setup for the gameplay as simple -- as Bang Bang, you'll fend off waves of evil bunnies, collect the money they drop, and try to survive as long as you can by blasting them with your vegetable/fruit-based turret as they march toward your fixed location. However, the environment spans 360 degrees all around you, so the evil bunnies can come from any angle. Fortunately, the game alerts you as to the direction they're approaching in, and they usually only come from one direction at a time in the earlier difficulties. While the core game is pretty much just one mode where you're blasting waves of bunnies until you're eventually overwhelmed, there is a system of progression in place that's similar to Jet Pack Joyride's, where you're given a set of four random missions (out of many) to meet in various playthroughs. Complete them and you'll get even more money and then other missions will rotate in. In turn, you'll spend that money on new vegetable-based weapons and upgrades. There's a wide array of upgrades as well, ranging from four different weapon types that have completely different feels to them (i.e. rifles that shoot carrots and the like; mortars that launch heavier produce; machine guns that fire seeds; and lasers that shoot, uh... vegetable-based lasers?) to ammunition that have different added effects (pumpkins do heavier damage but are slow, watermelon seeds fire fast but do light damage and such) to additional hearts and more. Additionally, there are plenty of medals to unlock that have various tasks assigned to them outside of the four random main missions, such as destroying x amount of certain bunnie types, surviving x amount of time, gathering certain amounts of money, and more; definitely enough to keep you entertained and busy for a while. The variation of evil bunny types add a bit of strategy to the gameplay, ranging from various levels of big, slow, bruisers to quick and nimble bunnies that run in a staggered formation (making them harder to hit) to flying bunnies and even mortar bunnies that will launch turnips at you from the background, and more. Visually, the game looks great with its colorful 3D venue and cast of eclectic evil bunnies, and the music is an appropriately Western-themed tempo, and it's rather catchy. If there's one thing I didn't care for, it's that the base game only provides one arena: The Farm. There are more areas and costume packs as well, but you'll have to pay for them. However, that's the tradeoff for having the game's price as only $5. So is the base game worth it then? Even with just one arena to play in, you'll get quite a bit out of the gameplay, especially if you try to complete the game's missions and trophies/achievements. It definitely doesn't reinvent the wheel as far as shooting gallery games go, but nevertheless Blast 'Em Bunnies is pretty fun and can be pretty addictive as long as you're not expecting a huge campaign to dive into. Pros + Fun, addictive shooting gallery gameplay in short bursts + System of progression is well done, lots of weapon upgrades + Nice, cartoony visuals Cons - Core game only contains one level, additional areas need to be purchased - Might only hold your attention in short bursts Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blast 'Em Bunnies is a fun and addictive shooting-gallery game that's best played in shorter bursts. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  12. Today Capcom finally announced the release date for Monster Hunter Generations (known as Monster Hunter X in Japan), which will be July 15, for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems. Also coming on the same day is a special Monster Hunter Generations New Nintendo 3DS, which comes in a blue hue and features artwork of the Fated Four -- a new group of elite monsters that players will be facing in the game. Unfortunately, the special edition Monster Hunter Generations New 3DS will not come bundled with the game. Although the game is compatible with the complete 3DS family of systems, it really sounds like Capcom is pushing the New 3DS as the best way to play it, especially considering the improved visuals, ZL and ZR buttons that are completely mappable, and the added camera fluidity that the C-stick provides. New additions to Monster Hunter Generations include four unique hunting styles, different Hunter Arts you can equip, more than 20 different hunting locations, and more. Also, a demo will be released at some point before the game's release, though the time and date for that will be revealed sometime later. You can check out one of the latest trailers for the game below. Source: Press Release Are you excited for Monster Hunter Generations?
  13. Amidst the somewhat mixed reception of Star Fox Zero from critics yesterday, Nintendo quietly announced via a press release that Metroid Prime: Federation Force will release on August 9 for 3DS. I'm still not quite sure what to make of this one, though the most recent Nintendo Direct did indicate that there will be a campaign and be playable by just one player (although it seems to benefit from multiplayer interaction). That same trailer also revealed that Samus will be making a cameo in game as well. Will you be playing Metroid Prime: Federation Force when it drops in August? Source: Press Release
  14. Developer: Tamsoft Publisher: XSEED Games Platform: 3DS Release Date: September 15, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature At one point, I would have used the term "plot" to both ironically and unironically to describe previous Senran Kagura games. Now, Senran Kagura Burst on 3DS was most certainly a flawed game, but the sincerity of its plot, despite its "plot" (aka shameless "fanservice"), caused me to like it perhaps more than I should have. Senran Kagura: Shinovi Versus on Vita was less to my liking, however. It was ultimately a better game than Burst, but the title embraced far more "plot", rather than real plot, and played more like a Musou game rather than a beat 'em up. The latest localized 3DS title, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson, has basically made me forget what promise I saw in both of those games. It is a bigger, flashier title than the original Senran Kagura Burst, and returns to a beat 'em up formula, yet it feels lacking in so many ways. On paper, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson adds a fair bit to the series, especially in regards to variety (which was severely lacking in previous games). Everything from more unique enemy types to the more technical combat (... in theory) for the various characters, Deep Crimson clearly tries stand out with its second 3DS showing. The primary combat of the game is noticeably different from both Shinovi Versus and Burst, and sort of feels like a weird medium between the two. Though it is in complete 3D, like Shinovi Versus, Deep Crimson's combat itself plays more like a character-action game. Attacks feel like they are more designed to take out singular targets, rather than juggling entire groups at once like various Musou games. It also plays with visual perspective more. Whether this comes from quickly teleporting from the ground to beat up enemies floating mid-air or deliberately turning entire camera an entire level to give a side-scrolling feel, it feels less one-note than previous entries in general design. The most obvious new gameplay feature outright is that you can use two Shinobi at once in many battles. This goes as far as to have unique tag-team special moves for different characters pairs in addition to being able to swap between either of them on the fly (assuming they aren't incapacitated). To complement this addition more is the inclusion online multiplayer to play through various stages, from the lengthy main story or the huge level/costume unlock grind that is the Yoma's Den (there are A TON of costumes)... if you happen to find someone else willing to play this title proudly. I think where Deep Crimson broke for me the most is just how poorly balanced the actual combat is. It has what I would define as a Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor's Edge complex. It often feels like the title deliberately punishes you for trying to play it properly. For example, basic gameplay things like attack hitboxes outright whiffing, enemies randomly countering you mid-combo, or some enemy skills being pretty much unavoidable (without the invincibility of using super attacks, at least) makes standard combat frustrating. I could go on a separate rant about the suicidal ally AI or the awful camera (for side-scrolling stages in particular) too, but just take my word that both are rather poor. There were many fights where I simply fought exploiting the enemy's aggressive AI patterns, rather than trying to play the game properly with finesse or even fun, simply to progress the main story (since victories often felt random otherwise). As implied before, I do actually secretly try to play Senran Kagura games for their stories, or... rather I did at one point. Not because the stories themselves were particularly amazing in previous games but because their focus on character-development was handled better than you would expect. Deep Crimson's story, however, is essentially a rather pointless interlude between Burst and Shinovi Versus. It is a drawn out story arc around the newcomers Kagura and Naru, neither of the two being particularly interesting or do very much throughout. It also has far less exposition between fights, making most of them feel entirely unnecessary and unnecessarily frequent. If you want an idea of how pointless the narrative is for this title, roughly 1/5 of the main story takes place in a hot spring. To continue my disappoint with the title, the soundtrack isn't nearly as good as the previous two games (let's pretend Bon Appetit doe not exist when I say that.). It is not bad per say, but nowhere near as rhythmically interesting, or varied overall. A lot of the musical themes feel like half-step remixes of previous releases than anything else. Of course, it would be disingenuous to not talk about the visuals too, which actually have seen a huge step up from its previous 3DS showing. Exaggerated bouncing physics and exploding costumes aside, there is a striking fluidity to the presentation in general. The surprisingly flashy cutscene cinematics makes this most apparent whereas previous games were generally carried by visual novel-esque scenes and little else. The 3DS's 3D toggle may be next to useless during actual gameplay (since it throws off depth perception) but otherwise in-motion Deep Crimson may very well be one of the better looking titles on the small handheld screen. Though Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson boasts the first true sequel moniker to the series, it unfortunately feels like an unnecessary interlude as a whole. It sacrifices pretty much every aspect that caused the series to subvert expectations, which primarily was the better-than-you'd-expect character-driven story mode, in conjunction to adding newfound frustrations with its many balance issues for basic combat. For just about everything except for the improved visuals, Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson has little in its own defense for being as shallow as it may appear. Pros: + Fairly smooth cutscene and combat animations + Absurd amount of outfit and accessory options + More combat variety from tag-team mechanics to actual enemies Cons: -Terrible camera - Very poorly balanced combat - Actual narrative is significantly less interesting than previous games - Awful ally AI Overall Score: 5 (out of 10) Average Though it is a better-looking title than its predecessors Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson embraces none of which caused the series to subvert expectations, leading to an unfortunate mess of a sequel Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.
  15. Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo Platform: 3DS Release Date: February 19, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen The road to Fire Emblem Fates felt like a long and ambiguous path. Initially, it was fueled by unabashed excitement after the excellent turn-based strategy-RPG Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS, which garnered not only many new series fans but it also reinvigorated a long-running franchise that was on its last legs with its surprising financial success. Things then quickly took a confusing turn closer to Japan's debut release as people learned that the next title in the Fire Emblem series was no longer just one game, but rather two entirely separate retail releases: those being Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. Not only that, but the two titles intend to justify their retail segregation by featuring entirely different campaigns with different mission design. Birthright is intended to be more approachable with its progression while Conquest is more akin to older titles in regards to difficulty/structure. No matter which version you choose, the first six chapters of either Conquest and Birthright are identical. Both games briskly give you a taste of the two nations of either Nohr and Hoshido, and which "family" of yours is associated with each, before the war between them quickly escalates. Admittedly, the story leans pretty heavily into making the Hoshido side (Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright) look like the would-be "good guys" while Nohr (Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest) is made out to be far more sketchy because of early narrative spoilers. Though Birthright is encouraged for a first playthrough I decided that both the gameplay and narrative setup seemed more to my liking in Conquest. The most intriguing aspect about the storytelling on Nohr's side is that it is not simply the "evil route" it may come off as with a first impression. Corrin, the lead character, very much has good intentions but simply uses another means to try and resolve the conflict. As solid of a premise as trying to fix the kingdom's corruption from within is, the storytelling unfortunately ends up being rather ham-fisted in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest. There is a strong dissonance with the narrative it tries to tell as the cartoonishly one-dimensional empire leaders constantly try to send Corrin to his/her death each story chapter. To make it all the worse, both Corrin and the Nohr family act very dense throughout pretending their evil intents are anything else-- going as far as to trivialize entire massacres to prove "truth." The generally weak writing and many clearly unexplained story devices, likely avoided for Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation, does not help its case either. Thankfully, the main hook of Conquest is in its gameplay structure. Though both games inherently have the same system mechanics from general combat that refine's upon Fire Emblem: Awakening in many subtle ways to the new "My Castle" functionality, Nohr side loves to flip the script with its challenging and varied main mission design. Not only that, it also significantly limits player resources to prevent easy grinding for either money or experience, unlike Birthright. For the most part it is all on the player to take risks to earn mission rewards and also maintain a balanced party mid-battle so that they may succeed in further trials. As implied before, Conquest has a lot of variety in its in story objectives and will force you to play outside of your comfort zone to claim victory. One early campaign mission that certainly showcases this initially starts off with an tower defense mindset as you prevent an onslaught of foes from advancing. You can use turrets to soften enemies up or create choke points at bridges they will attempt to cross. As the mission progresses, however, the boss of the level uses their "dragon vein" skill (which the lead and other characters can also use depending on the stage) to completely evaporate the water under the bridges. This causes both enemies and allies to move across the terrain unimpeded and makes the battle far more scary of an encounter as you are vastly outnumbered but also need to hold a defensive line for a certain amount of turns. Even if it can be quite mean on the standard difficulty (with "classic" character permadeath, at least) -- especially compared to Birthright -- the varied design, generally fair challenge, and creative mission scenarios honestly makes Conquest's campaign quite enjoyable. Frankly, the maps and scripted objectives in the game have the most fun battles that I have ever encountered in any Fire Emblem and even made my subsequent playthrough of Birthright feel that much less engaging in comparison. A long staple of the series, which are the "supports" events between two characters who pair up close together in combat, to eventually make friends or would-be lovers, also makes a return. Like Awakening, it capitalizes much on what made it popular from marriage to children between those individuals. Admittedly, though the main Conquest cast and other recruitable characters are quite lacking in the main narrative, they are noticeably more charismatic in these support scenes even if none of them are particularly deep individuals by themselves. Of course, you will have to suspend you disbelief towards their hammy romances, and especially the awful narrative justification for children units even being playable in Fire Emblem: Fates at all, for the sake of a fun gameplay mechanic. Well, some borderline creepy "waifu/husbando" pandering here and there aside. Also engaging, though not exactly exclusive to Conquest, is the new feature to the Fire Emblem series called "My Castle." The tempting comparison for myself would be to say it is sort of like the main hub on Disgaea 5 but less in-depth and has a bigger social emphasis. As you level up and progress the main story you have several options to develop your castle from upgrading various shops to adding facilities like a mess hall, prison, or an accessory shop with points as you play through. In addition to this you can also visit other people's castles online or via streetpass. There is a strong incentive to visit other people's castles regularly as you can get free materials, fight or negotiate with other players, use their castle facilities, and plenty more. Fire Emblem Fates creates a smart, addictive routine with "My Castle" through its constantly rewarding loop to keep players coming back for more. It is so strange that Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest lives on as an amalgamation of being greatly satisfying as an strategy-RPG and very unfulfilling with its script in the same breath. It may very well feature one of the most poorly told stories Fire Emblem history, with generally shallow characters to propel it, that makes for a real shame for its cool premise. And yet, it is a fantastic strategy-RPG with Conquest being the most tactical and rewarding of the two main versions of Fire Emblem Fates, especially for those who have a taste for the added challenge it presents with its creatively varied, addictive campaign. For as much as I'd advocate it as being one of the absolute best strategy-RPG experiences on the 3DS, it can just as easily leave a bitter taste in one's mouth with its jarringly poor storytelling that I can only hope is remedied in Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation. Pros: + Excellent variety in main story battles thanks to clever "Dragon Vein" mechanics and many unique battle objectives + Satisfying challenge that forces player efficiency and prevents using repeat level grinding as a crutch + "My Castle" makes building up your fortress, and visiting others, fairly addictive with its constantly rewarding progression Cons: -Very shallow main narrative script that is much less engaging than its core premise - A bit too much pandering with returning ideas that were introduced in Fire Emblem: Awakening to even certain entirely recycled character designs Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great It may have been pitched as the far less approachable title, both thematically and with its occasionally ruthless challenge, but in its best moments Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest stands proudly as not only one of the absolute best strategy-RPGs on 3DS but also amongst other Fire Emblem titles in gameplay alone -- which is by far its greatest asset even in the face of its very poor storytelling. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a physical 3DS copy purchased by the reviewer.
  16. Jason Clement

    Review: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

    Developer: Alpha Dream Publisher: Nintendo Platform: 3DS Release Date: January 20, 2015 ESRB: E for Everyone Despite the Mario & Luigi series being well over 13 years old at this point, it's surprising how its core formula hasn't changed much, and it's not at all tired just yet. This is likely because each entry generally makes use of a new gameplay gimmick or situation that helps each game feel a bit more unique. Case in point - Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam sees the titular brothers teaming up with Paper Mario this time around after Luigi accidentally knocks over a special book that unleashes the latter character's world into their own. Initially, the story addresses the issue of the main characters suddenly having doubles of themselves, often to comedic effect. And where there's two of everything, that means there are also two Bowsers and two Peaches for them to kidnap. Overall, the writing is fairly well-written and consistently funny; it's evident that among the two current ongoing Mario RPG series, Mario & Luigi is the one that hasn't quite lost its edge in that department yet. The big shakeup to the gameplay this time around comes with the addition of Paper Mario as the third wheel of the group. While Mario and Luigi's collaborative Bro Attacks make their usual return, Paper Mario adds a bit more of a different flavor to the battle as you can make multiple copies of himself (up to 6) to increase the amount of attacks and damage he can make. If he gets hit, he'll lose copies, though you can restore them throughout the course of the battle. And due to having three characters in the party, you'll also be able to choose between Mario and Luigi's traditional Bro Attacks and new Trio Attacks that utilize all three characters at once, offering a slew of options to choose from and making battles that much more interesting. Paper Jam has the best battle system out of all the Mario and Luigi games yet, and possibly even the Mario RPG series at large. Boss battles in particular feel deep, satisfying, and challenging, thanks in part to a system that focuses on learning and avoiding enemies' attack patterns and using their own attacks against them. In fact, some of them are so challenging that this is probably the first Mario & Luigi game where I've lost different boss battles multiple times before finally beating them. Also new is a card system that activates different support bonuses during battles, potentially giving you an extra hand when circumstances are looking particularly dire. One of the more divisive parts of the game are the areas in which you must find a number of Paper Toads before progressing - effectively, Paper Toad hunts. I didn't mind these segments as they do diversify the ways you go about acquiring the toads -- sometimes you have to search them out and other times you might play a minigame, do a stealth segment, or have to fight enemies. More often than not, I found these sections fairly entertaining. However, finding those Paper Toads leads to an important plot point - Papercraft battles. These battles are fairly interesting and play very differently from the rest of the game. You're pitted in an arena where you'll have to defeat all other Papercraft enemies, which you do by ramming into them from behind and then tossing your Mario Papercraft at them to inflict damage. There really isn't too much strategy to them beyond that and learning to time when you throw your Papercraft, they do add subtle changes to make them a bit more complicated in each subsequent round throughout the game. Paper Jam also looks visually impressive, with great-looking environments and locations that meld elements of Paper Mario's world with that of Mario and Luigi's. It's easily the best-looking of the entire M&L series. And once again, Yoko Shimomura returns to compose the pleasant and whimsical tunes the series is known for. At five entries strong, the Mario & Luigi series shows almost no signs of slowing down. Paper Jam is the best entry since Bowser's Inside Story, and possibly the best overall (time will tell). Bringing the Mario & Luigi world together with Paper Mario was a clever concept that served to introduce some interesting mechanics and make the battle system even deeper. However, despite the inclusion of Paper Mario, this is still very much a Mario & Luigi game; don't expect tons of neat paper mechanics worked into the gameplay outside of battles. Otherwise, Paper Jam holds up magnificently as one of the best in the series. Pros + Best, deepest battle system yet + Paper Mario is a great and an important reason why the battle system is so + good + Visually pretty + Good, humorous writing Cons - Story doesn't venture outside usual Bowser kidnapping (even w/ the paper twist) - Collecting Toads might get old for some people Overall Score: 9 out of 10 Fantastic Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is a fantastic new addition to the series, and easily one of the best Mario RPGs overall. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable code provided by the publisher
  17. In today's news, more NX rumors surface, SEGA teases Sonic news soon, we get some more information on Dragon Quest VII, and more! Read on below for the full scoops. New NX Rumors Surface Still no official word on what Nintendo's next platform codenamed 'NX' will be, but new rumors are circulating about the console's technical specs. A survey from GFK (a client of Nintendo) which was leaked from Liam Robertson (who has ties to Unseen64, a site about unreleased and cancelled video games) seems to add further fuel to the fire about connectivity between a handheld and console unit. Furthermore, it makes mention that video calls will be able to be made through your TV through the NX and it will support 4K/60fps video streaming and gameplay graphics at 900p/60fps. Finally, a sensor bar is also reportedly supposed to be bundled with the system; an interesting tidbit for sure, if true. As usual, take this all with a grain of salt until we get actual confirmation from Nintendo, which will hopefully come sometime before E3 (if not at the trade show itself). Source: Nintendo Inquirer SEGA teases Sonic news in February If you're a Sonic fan, good news -- you might be hearing more Sonic game news very soon. Apparently SEGA's teased an announcement of... some announcements to come in February on their Tumblr page. Might they reveal a new Sonic game or two? It's possible considering that this year is the 25th anniversary. Stay tuned... Source: Sonicthehedgehog.tumblr.com New Info on Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past Many fans have long been awaiting Dragon Quest VII remake here in the US, and yesterday brought a slew of new info on the localization. Namely, Dragon Quest VII is basically a brand new game with all new writing and no random encounters (you'll see the enemies on the map). Also being implemented are a story summary feature and Streetpass feature that will net you tablets. Keep an eye out for more Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past news leading up to its release later this Summer. Source: Siliconera https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuzx7OKR40Y&feature=youtu.be&t=6m10s Aryll speaks for Toon Link in Hyrule Warriors Legends Hyrule Warriors Legends on 3DS is slated to include a few new characters that weren't present in the Wii U version of the game. Chief among them is Toon Link, and recent information has revealed an interesting tidbit about him. Other incarnations of Link usually have a fairy speaking in behalf of him throughout the game but Toon Link will have none other than his kid sister Aryll speaking on his behalf, which should be a nice change. She'll be speaking to him through the power of the Pirate's Charm, the same item that Tetra and The King of Red Lions used to communicate with Link in The Wind Waker. You can hear her talking at the 6:10 point in the video above! Of course, you'll also be able to hear her for yourself when the game launches on March 25 in North America. Source: Zelda Informer Twilight Princess HD amiibo functionality detailed Wondering what the Wolf Link amiibo will do when used with the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD? Well, we finally have an answer. According to this week's Famitsu magazine, using the amiibo at a certain location will allow the player to experience "Thorough Battle: Trial of the Beast." Clearing it will net you a "Bottomless Wallet," which can carry up to 9,999 rupees (the max amount, safe to say). Also, the amiibo will allow you to import data from Twilight Princess HD into the upcoming Legend of Zelda Wii U game. What the data is is currently unknown still; expect to hear more leading up to the game's release. Finally, other Zelda-related amiibo will be able to be used once a day for different effects, such as replenishing arrows, hearts, and even making enemies dish out twice as much damage (thanks, Ganondorf... I guess). Source: Nintendo Everything Knuckle Sandwich is a visually stunning, upcoming Earthbound-inspired indie RPG Who doesn't love Earthbound (am I right)? 2015 saw a slew of indie games inspired by it, such as Citizens of Earth and the ever-popular Undertale (which I hear may have won our Game of the Year 2015 honor). Anyhoo, an upcoming indie RPG from Andrew Brophy called Knuckle Sandwich looks to be inspired by the SNES classic as well. The game stars a boy who's living on his own for the first time, and gets caught up in a mystery where people are disappearing from town. No release date has been detailed just yet, but Knuckle Sandwich will be coming to PC at some point. Be sure to check out the game's trailer above. Source: Polygon What news stood out to you today? Do you think the new NX rumors have any merit? And will SEGA announce something exciting for Sonic?
  18. Today Nintendo held a press event where they revealed quite a bit about the upcoming RPGs that are coming to 3DS this year. Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition 3DS Announced Not surprising at all, but definitely very cool -- Nintendo has announced an official limited edition New 3DS to celebrate the release of Fire Emblem Fates on February 19. The Special Edition Fire Emblem Fates New 3DS will feature black and white art based on the game and will retail for $199.99. Sadly, neither version of the game is included, however. Both versions of the game will retail for $39.99 separately. Additionally, the third story, Fire Emblem: Revelations will launch as DLC for $19.99 on March 10th for gamers who have bought Birthright or Conquest. Also, Nintendo announced that new map DLC will be released regularly starting with the first on February 19. Players will be able to buy them separately or all-at-once as a discounted Map Pack 1 bundle for $17.99. With prices like that, it seems like Nintendo is poised to make major bank on this title. Bravely Second: End Layer coming in April with its own Collector's Edition Yup, it's true - Bravely Second: End Layer has finally been dated for release on April 15. The game will also be receiving a collector's edition that includes the following: The game 10-song original soundtrack2 250-page deluxe art book Also, a demo version of the game called Bravely Second: End Layer РThe Ballad of the Three Cavaliers will be available to download shortly before the game comes out and offers its own unique story as well as new jobs and areas to explore. More RPGs dated for release in 2016 Fire Emblem Fates and Bravely Second: End Layer definitely aren't the only games releasing this year for 3DS; here's a look at the release dates for some other Nintendo-bound RPGs that are on the horizon. As Jonathan would say - "DRAGON QUEST!!!" Final Fantasy Explorers - Jan. 26 Project X Zone 2 - Feb. 16 Pok̩mon Red Version Feb. 27 Pok̩mon Blue Version - Feb. 27 Pok̩mon Yellow Version: Special Pikachu Edition - Feb. 27 Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past - Summer 2016 Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King - Q3/Q4 2016 Source: Nintendo Press Release Not a bad day for announcements, certainly. What are you looking forward to from these announcements? Let us know below!
  19. Jordan Haygood

    Review: Dementium Remastered

    Developer: Renegade Kid Publisher: Renegade Kid Platform: Nintendo 3DS (eShop) Release Date: December 3, 2015 ESRB: M for Mature Official Website Originally released as Dementium: The Ward for the Nintendo DS, Dementium Remastered is a 3DS facelift of a game that takes quite a bit of influence from classic video game horror. In fact, the original DS version began as an idea for a Silent Hill game, which developer Renegade Kid pitched to Konami, only for the idea to get shot down. As a result, the developer opted to turn the idea into an original game. Thus, Dementium: The Ward was born. And later, remastered. What Dementium: The Ward did well, Dementium Remastered does just as well, and in some cases better, partly thanks to the hardware it runs on. Unfortunately, whatever shortcomings the original had also made their way into the polished port. And without even looking at the cons of The Ward, there are some noticeable flaws with Dementium Remastered that are hard to forgive. Thankfully, there is enough right with this game to make it a generally enjoyable horror experience. The most important aspect of any game that wishes to be classified as "horror" is its ability to frighten the player. Or at least try to. Hey, some people are just hard to scare (says the reviewer with a smug face). Dementium Remastered does a pretty good job in that regard. Renegade Kid was clearly looking at classic survival horror games for ideas, as this game certainly feels like something I'd have played on the original PlayStation alongside Silent Hill and Resident Evil. For starters, Dementium Remastered has a fairly eerie setting that helps the game be delightfully creepy. Of course, the game takes place in a psychiatric hospital, which is a setting with a lot of creepy potential. And it certainly helps that it's dark, requiring you to use a flashlight to see past your otherwise restricted field of vision. And you wanna know the best part? In order to fight monsters, you have to put that flashlight away. That's right, Dementium Remastered does not allow you to hold both your flashlight and a weapon. Which is, in my opinion, a brilliant idea for a survival horror game. It really does add to the terror. Speaking of the psychiatric hospital in which Dementium Remastered takes place, the reason the protagonist is even there is something that hooks you early on. Why are you there? You want to know the answer to that question, especially after watching the weird opening scene, so you keep playing. Then you hear via news programs and flashbacks that a man apparently murdered his wife while his young daughter watched. Is that man you? And if it is, did you really do it? The story of Dementium Remastered is certainly interesting enough to hold your attention until you get answers to your questions, even if you find them obvious. Unfortunately, you might find yourself disappointed by an ending that leaves you with more questions than answers. It's clearly little more than a cliffhanger for the sequel, which I found kind of cheap. Now let's talk about the monsters. You can't really discuss a survival horror game without talking about the creatures that make it such a game. The creatures in Dementium Remastered? Man, lemme tell ya. They're not as horrifying as monsters in some horror games I've played, but they're still pretty damn scary. For starters, these monsters will freak you out before you even see them. Even the most common enemy you encounter has a creepy breathing sound that's frightening simply because you don't know where the thing is. It makes you jump when it comes charging right at you through the darkness. And pretty much every other monster has a really creepy noise to go along with it. Especially the heart-stopping shrieks of the banshees. Those things will scare the [censored] out of you from time to time. Unfortunately, there are also times when the monsters are more frustrating than they are terrifying -- especially in the final chapter. Now, to be fair, I did choose to play the game on hard mode, but I do think Renegade Kid could have balanced the difficulty a bit better. I'd hate to try the remastered version's exclusive "Demented" mode... Of course, most of my problems may have been avoided if not for the controls. Playing on the 3DS, I found myself wishing I were holding a controller with more precision. In the end, I found that the best thing to do is probably getting used to the touch control method. Or maybe use a Circle Pad Pro. I'm honestly not sure, as I didn't use one. I did, however, use the little nub on the New 3DS. I'll tell you right now, it isn't the best way to move the camera while fighting monsters. You can also go with the ABXY option, but that's even worse. Maybe others have had a better time with the controls, but I found myself raging over them. Most of the control options just seem too clunky and imprecise. It wasn't a problem too often for the game to be unplayable, but still. While we're on the topic of things I don't like about Dementium Remastered, this game has far too many bugs -- some of them almost making me have to start from my last save point. Namely, a certain glitch that caused me to get stuck in a doorway. Luckily, I was able to use my buzz-saw to push my body through. Not only is that the most useful weapon in the game, it also saved me from a grave inconvenience. Then there was this glitch that kept me from picking up health at one point. There was also a bug I noticed that kept certain chapter title screens from triggering. I noticed it when I went from Chapter 4 to Chapter 7, then later from Chapter 10 to Chapter 13. There are some other bugs, but you get the idea. They were mostly very minor problems, but noticeable. And a noticeable bug makes the whole game look bad. Remember that, devs. Getting back to the not-so-bad aspects of Dementium Remastered, the visuals are pretty nice. The game looked good back when it donned the "The Ward" subtitle, but that was a DS title. So as a simple remaster of said title, the graphics are pretty great. I do wish they could have given the hospital more variety in design, rather than having nearly every area looking the same, but it's forgivable. As for the music, it's okay. It's certainly no Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame, but it does its job in helping to set the tone of the game well enough. The songs sound pretty outdated for a 3DS game, but again, it originated as a DS game, so that's perfectly understandable. Oh, and if you were wondering, the 3D effect isn't worth using with this game. I don't know if it's me, but I always seem to get double/triple vision when darkness is involved. And darkness is almost always involved. At the end of the day (which is the time you should play this game for the full horror experience), Dementium Remastered is a good survival horror game. It just has a few shortcomings that weigh it down a bit, like clunky controls and glitches galore. But behind its unfortunate downsides are plenty of good things that make this a pretty solid and fairly horrifying addition to your digital library. It's not very long, but if you're looking for a good horror game to play on a handheld and haven't played Dementium: The Ward already, give its polished 3DS port a try. Pros: + Classic survival horror influence + Setting is delightfully creepy + Mysterious plot that'll hold your attention + Frightening monsters Cons: - Clunky and imprecise controls for most control methods - Riddled with bugs (the developmental kinds) Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Taking quite a bit of influence from the classics, Dementium Remastered is a generally satisfying survival horror experience, regardless of its unfortunate shortcomings. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using a downloadable code provided by the publisher.
  20. barrel

    Review: Stella Glow

    Developer: Imageepoch/Sega Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: 3DS Release Date: November 17, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen Seeing the developer name Imageepoch does not automatically inspire confidence within me. It could be because of the very unfortunate RPG mess that was Time & Eternity or my various loose recollections of the wholly forgettable Black Rock Shooter: The Game. Regardless, my recent memory of Imageepoch titles is not exactly glowing. However, rewinding my memories further back, I actually recall liking the strategy-RPG Luminous Arc 2 on the original Nintendo DS. It was hardly the first title you would recommend on the system but there was a certain charm to it that is difficult for me to articulate now. That said, as of this year Imageepoch filed for bankruptcy. As a possible last hurrah, Imageepoch conducted a spiritual successor to their very first developed game, Luminous Arc, with new turn-based strategy-RPG Stella Glow on the 3DS. One can only hope that Stella Glow leaves their name on a good note. Unfortunately, the early goings of Stella Glow do not make a strong first impression. The storytelling in particular is derivative to a noticeable fault. Lead character whom may-or-may-not be an amnesiac? Check. Romantic interests for the lead fulfilling pretty apparent anime archetypes? Check. A possibly misunderstood villain figure out to destroy the world? Check. Pretty much every aspect of it feels like a checklist of Japanese-RPG cliches. It also didn't help that the intentionally nostalgic character designs of the lead character Alto and the witch Hilda made them blur together with previous Luminous Arc leads for me longer than they should have. That said, I warmed up to Stella Glow far quicker than I would have expected. For as stereotypical as the storytelling is, it somehow feels much more charming and cute than cringe-worthy. The cast of characters end up being generally likable (more so through the "free time" events) and Atlus USA“s clever localization knows when to sneak in plenty of tongue-in-cheek quips to give everything a more entertaining flair than it has any right being. What caught me off-guard more than anything else is how surprisingly polished Stella Glow is as an actual game. Imageepoch has come a long way from the many clunky, mediocre-at-best RPGs that plagued of their entire existence, and it really shows in Stella Glow. The basic turn-based strategy-RPG gameplay actually reminds me a fair bit level-5's PSP title Jeanne D'Arc, but as a game it is structured a lot better. It does nothing new for the subgenre with its grid-based gameplay at large but it borrows pretty much all of the right things.The main story regularly introduces new battle scenarios that play upon different terrain, varying objectives, orbs skills to personalize characters, and tossing new playable fresh faces in addition. More distinctly, each character has at least a few unique mechanics to differentiate themselves: The witch Sakuya goes between different attack stances that change both her movement and attack skills, the ninja Nonoka can conceal herself from enemies, the merchant Ewan has an infinite supply of healing items (but... you'll have to pay him upfront mid-battle to use them), and so on. It's fun to go into battle to employ different strategies with the varied cast and the skill animations in particular have quite a lot of personality to complement them (though, the overhead visuals are admittedly far more basic). Additionally, the witch characters can use song magic to quickly turn the tides of battle, adding an extra layer to the combat. After building up the song gauge by characters dealing and/or taking damage mid-battle, Alto can "conduct" the witch heroines (which... looks like him stabbing them in the heart with knife) to unleash powerful song magic to debilitate foes or buff allies as long as it is active, and varies from witch to witch. The songs themselves are usually of the J-pop variety but end up being catchy regardless. Actually, the soundtrack in general is shockingly good, but maybe less so when legendary video game composer Yasunori Mitsuda is the one behind it (with RPG fame that extends to Chrono Trigger/Cross, Xenosaga, and even Soul Sacrifice). It certainly is not Mitsuda's best work but there is quite a lot of variety in the score with battle themes in particular. Going back to combat, though, there are a few issues. For one, it can be annoying to balance the levels of party members because inactive party members gain no experience whatsoever. This may not sound like a big deal at first until you realize how many scripted story battles there are that require certain characters to be in the group and how you generally can only sortie 6 characters per battle (when there are about 15 playable characters by the end of the game). Another qualm is that gameplay will be on the easier side for many strategy-RPG veterans without any option to change. Outside of combat, Stella Glow also apologetically borrows a Persona 3/4's social link mechanic in the form of "Free time" between the main missions. Alto can take jobs from the Red Bear Tavern for easy cash, explore outside of town on his own to get free items, but the most substantial is without a doubt spending time with fellow party members. In addition to fleshing out most characters, even those not immediately likable in the main story, you get very tangible gameplay benefits in combat as you build up their friendship. Again, very much like Persona 3 and 4. An extension to the Free Time concept for character relationships is "tuning", which is kind of reminiscent of Ar Tonelico/Ar NoSurge's diving mechanic. Basically, Alto can go into the psyche of the various witch heroines for both character development reasons and to enhance their song magic. It is not as in-depth as something like Ar NoSurge, with literal hours of exposition, but it's a cool addition regardless like most of Free Time events. There are also a multitude of character endings caused by these character events so Stella Glow very much rewards picking favorites, from romances to bromances, the first time through in its lengthy 40+ hour adventure. Even if players happen to miss out on most of them the first time the New Game+ is fairly thoughtful in dramatically extending the amount of Free Time and combat experience rate for would-be thorough players to see all of the endings. It is unlikely that Stella Glow will outshine the likes of Fire Emblem: Awakening or Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker in most 3DS owner's eyes. Just the same, however, Stella Glow unassumingly earns its place as one of the best RPGs on 3DS and is pretty much without a doubt the best title from Imageepoch outright. Stella Glow does not attempt to reinvent the wheel amongst strategy-RPGs but, narrative cliches aside, it will likely remind fans why they like the subgenre in the first place because of the deceptive amount of charm and great gameplay fundamentals it has hidden underneath. Pros: + Generally charming characters and writing + Combat animations have quite a bit of personality + Fun, if hardly original, turn-based SRPG gameplay with varied characters + "Free Time" events are a cool break from combat + Great soundtrack Cons: - Main story is nothing to write home about and is incredibly predictable - Balancing party levels can be needlessly annoying due to no shared EXP between inactive members - Easier than many SRPGs Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Stella Glow does not reinvent the wheel for turn-based strategy-RPGs, nor does it attempt to, but it can easily remind fans why they like it in the first place with its deceptive amount of charm and polish. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable 3DS code provided by the publisher.